This paper draws upon new research in the UK into the relationship between changing organizational forms and the reshaping of work in order to consider the changing nature of the employment relationship. The development of more complex organizational forms – such as cross organization networking, partnerships, alliances, use of external agencies for core as well as peripheral activities, multi‐employer sites and the blurring of public/private sector divide – has implications for both the legal and the socially constituted nature of the employment relationship. The notion of a clearly defined employer–employee relationship becomes difficult to uphold under conditions where employees are working in project teams or on‐site beside employees from other organizations, where responsibilities for performance and for health and safety are not clearly defined, or involve more than one organization. This blurring of the relationship affects not only legal responsibilities, grievance and disciplinary issues and the extent of transparency and equity in employment conditions, but also the definition, constitution and implementation of the employment contract defined in psychological and social terms. Do employees perceive their responsibilities at work to lie with the direct employer or with the wider enterprise or network organization? And do these perceptions affect, for example, how work is managed and carried out and how far learning and incremental knowledge at work is integrated in the development of the production or service process? So far the investigation of both conflicts and complementarities in the workplace have focused primarily on the dynamic interactions between the single employer and that organization’s employees. The development of simultaneously more fragmented and more networked organizational forms raises new issues of how to understand potential conflicts and contradictions around the ‘employer’ dimension to the employment relationship in addition to more widely recognized conflicts located on the employer–employee axis.
Journal of Management Studies – Wiley
Published: Jul 1, 2002
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